• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

I was intrigued by the wolves, and I was interested in McConaghy's exploration of the tensions between wilderness and civilization, but I didn't feel a connection to the characters in Once There Were Wolves.

"This is the fear they live with now. The children in us long for monsters to take forms we understand. They want to fear the wolves because they don’t want to fear each other.”


From a young age Inti realized she had a particular affinity for animals; if she tuned in, she could feel their feelings and even their physical sensations.

Inti and Aggie Flynn grew up spending time with their father living off the grid and become attuned to nature, focused on preservation, and respectful of wildlife.

Later in life the sisters find themselves in the Scottish Highlands together as biologist Inti works to reintroduce gray wolves into the region.

Inti has hardened her heart in the years since she was a child, but she begins opening up because of the magnificent creatures she's studying. When a crisis erupts, Inti must choose between her beloved wolves and the outside world and its pressures to leave the wild behind.

Meanwhile, it's not clear whether some elements within McConaghy's story are real or are imagined by Inti. Inti's empathy and her taking on of others' physical sensations just by witnessing them only add to the off-kilter aspects of the book--what is real, is she a reliable narrator, what's really going on? And: Whose loyalty can be trusted? Whose memory is solid? Who are the villains and who are the heroes--or is everyone and is every creature a mix of both?

McConaghy digs into the issues surrounding--and, sometimes, the seeming impossibility--of balancing ecological and agricultural health and populated areas and wilderness.

I didn't feel an emotional connection to the characters, even during the several fraught, desperate, charged encounters between certain players. I felt far more of a bond with and had more interest in the wolves themselves. I was fascinated by the scientists' tracking abilities, the data they're able to gather, and especially the social structures and behaviors within and among the packs.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

McConaghy is also the author of Migrations, which my book club is reading this fall.